MRSA is a super-bug that resists antibiotics and so can be very dangerous when a patient contracts it in a hospital. Hospitals are slowly starting to realize that MRSA infections can be prevented in most cases.
On this page we describe the history of the MRSA bug and what is being done to combat it. If you or a loved one contracted MRSA in a hospital that doesn’t follow the rigorous sanitary practices described here, you may want to undertake a medical malpractice investigation to see if filing a lawsuit is justified. Most of the time, when a patient suffers a terrible injury or dies from a MRSA infection, it should not have happened.
A quick dose of history
After penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1943, nearly any bacterial infection could be cured with a liberal dose of antibiotics. But the bugs fought back. One very common target for antibiotics was Staphylococcus aureus, a bug that lives harmlessly on the skin and in the nostrils of up to one-third of Americans, but which can cause nasty infections once it gets inside the body. 1
This is the very bug that Fleming proved with his petri dish could be killed by the fungus whose active ingredient was penicillin.
Then MRSA came along, first detected in a tiny number of cases in Great Britain in the early 1960s, now worldwide. MRSA is a stubborn bug that can live for hours on hospital-room surfaces and fabrics like staff uniforms. So it’s easily carried from one patient to another.
The good news is that the cures for this epidemic disease are already at hand:
- rigorous hand washing (with soap and water or an alcohol gel) and wearing gloves before touching the patient, and especially before invading the patient’s body with any tube or needle of any kind;
- screening of all new patients with nasal swabs and isolating patients who carry drug-resistant germs in special rooms;
- changing uniforms every shift, with new gowns or disposable plastic aprons used for any contact with infected patients, or patients who are carriers but not themselves infected (the doctor’s white coat, which often isn’t cleaned for weeks on end, is a notorious carrier of germs);
- using disposable equipment for anything that might touch more than one patient—such as disposable liners for blood pressure cuffs, EKG leads, etc.;
- “soak and wait” cleaning of all surfaces in patient rooms that any patient or staff might come in contact with (waiting a minute or two before wiping off disinfectant); and
- administering a dose of an antibiotic one to two hours before any surgical patient is cut open.
These precautions have been proven, through widespread use in Denmark, Holland, and Finland, to cut infection rates to next to nothing. Unfortunately, they have not been widely adopted in the United States, aside from a few hospitals like the Veterans Administration system—pioneered by its hospital in Pittsburgh.
1 This discussion is adapted from Patrick Malone’s book: The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst.
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